COP16: Young and Future Generations Day

I’m here at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for the second year in a row with the Sierra Student Coalition.  Last year, our world leaders disappointed us by failing to produce a binding treaty.  After the hype of Copenhagen, Cancun feels like a vacation — fewer heads of state, less civil society, and the balmy Caribbean weather doesn’t help.

But the youth aren’t exactly on spring break here. Before COP began, international youth volunteers worked to put together a Conference of Youth.  This year was the 6th annual Conference of Youth — a time for young people from all over the world to gather, network, and plan for the conference.

Ethan and I presented the Generation Waking Up experience, an interactive tool to inspire and motivate young people into action.   As we build our movements, we need tools that reach peoples’ hearts and unite us around a common generational narrative.   We don’t have millions of dollars to influence the political process; we have people power.   And in order to mobilize that power, we need to wake people up, and quickly.  We can solve the climate crisis, but we’re running out of time.

On the bus this morning I met a party member from the Republic of Burundi, a small land-locked country in Eastern Africa.  Burundi is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world.  This woman spoke slowly and firmly about the situation of her country. When we asked her what she thought about the negotiations thus far, she replied,

“If you neighbor is ill, you cannot say you will not help.”

Waking up to me means two things. First, it means to open our eyes to what is really happening in the world.  Not to create judgment, just to look and see what’s there.  We must wake up from this state of privileged ignorance and really see what’s happening to our neighbors, to each of us, to our food systems, and to our land.

Second, it means to wake up to realize our deepest passions and purpose.  What do we love to do? And to realize those passions in work that creates, inspires, and brings forth a thriving planet.

Today in COP is Young and Future Generations Day.  As we move forward in these climate talks, the youth have their eyes open.  Here in Cancun, many of us from the United States are already working across cultural barriers to partner with our Chinese neighbors.  It’s time for leaders to do the same.  There’s a lot of work to be done.

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